Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lemon-Rosemary Cake

I have a wonderful recipe for you today! It's light, moist, fluffy white cake flavored with lemon and a hint of rosemary. Perfect for warm summer days!

This flavor combo might seem a little strange to some. I had the idea when brainstorming for different cake combos to try. I had just dried some of my own rosemary, which miraculously lived through most of our very mild winter. It seemed like a natural flavor match. And it is! Because the rosemary isn't too strong, it works really well in a dessert. It really adds a depth to the also-subtle lemon flavor.

I was thinking I was so clever to have thought of this, created the recipe, and that it works. Then I made the mistake of googling it. I should have known this wasn't unique! There really isn't anything new in the world.

I'm still really pleased with this recipe and I know you will love it! Unless you hate lemons. Or hate rosemary. Then maybe you won't love it. But try it anyway because I love the challenge of winning someone over!

Beth, if you are reading this, I'm going to convince you to love pumpkin pie one of these days! :)

I don't have a big decorated cake to show you with this one. I just made it in a 9x13 cake pan and slathered the icing on the top after it had cooled. Just like Mom used to do. It was wonderful! Sometimes it's nice to just make a really tasty cake and not feel like it has to be super fancy.

This cake is pretty enough to stand on its own, I think.

Just look at that lovely light yellow color (from the butter mostly, but it represents the lemon flavor wonderfully) and the little flecks of rosemary and lemon zest.

One of the keys to success with this cake is to make sure your rosemary is chopped very, very finely. You can use fresh or dried. I think fresh, or fresh that you dried yourself, would work best because sometimes the dried rosemary ends up really tough. If you use dried, you could try chopping it in a spice grinder. I just used my chef's knife and rocked it back and forth over my little rosemary pile again and again.

Another key to success is in the icing prep. Make sure you take your time and let the butter and the final mixture really whip up. This makes the icing really light and fluffy and super smooth. I didn't bother to sift my confectioner's sugar, but you might want to in order to be sure no lumps end up in your icing.

You may also notice that this is not my normal Swiss Meringue buttercream. You know I LOVE my Swiss Meringue! Well, I'm excited to tell you that I love this buttercream too! It is not as sweet as most confectioner's sugar/butter icings and doesn't have the greasy mouth-feel of faux-buttercream made with shortening. You can adapt this to any flavor. For example, to make vanilla, just omit the rosemary, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add a little more milk (another teaspoon or two) until you have the right consistency. I should also note that this recipe is loosely based on Sweetapolita's Whipped Vanilla Buttercream recipe, which you can find here. Just scroll to the bottom.

Here are some baking notes about this recipe, for those of you who are interested in the science of baking, like me. First, I used bleached cake flour because the bleached particles are better able to hold the structure of the cake. I've used unbleached in the past and only recently discovered that this was the reason for my white and yellow cakes often sinking on me.

At first glance, this recipe appears to be over-leavened. The general rule is 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour OR 1/4 baking soda per 1 cup of flour. I mostly stick to just baking powder in my recipes, but I added a little baking soda to this to counteract the acidity added with the buttermilk and lemon zest. That extra acidity would have made my cake batter too alkaline and it would have collapsed. A little acidity is actually good for a cake and helps it to set properly, but when the batter is too acidic, it needs the baking soda to help restore the perfect balance.

And to think, I always hated science in school! Maybe if my high school science teacher had offered me cake, I would have learned more! :)

I also recently started using a little yogurt (I lessened the cream or in this case buttermilk content accordingly) in my white and yellow cakes. It adds a wonderful flavor and some moisture. Many of you have probably seen recipes with sour cream in them. The yogurt does the same thing. I usually use my own homemade yogurt. It is vanilla flavored, but it still works. If I were using store-bought, I would probably use Greek yogurt, but any kind will work. Just don't use vanilla-flavored store-bought yogurt because most are not flavored with pure vanilla. They use the fake stuff, which you will end up tasting in your cake.

Finally, you probably all know this, but it bears repeating because of it's importance in the final outcome of your cake: all of your ingredients should be at room temperature when you start your mixing. There are ways to speed up some things if you haven't thought ahead. I usually have to do these because I often forget to take things out of the frig in time! For eggs, put the whole egg in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Works like a charm, but it does make them harder to separate. Do NOT try to warm the egg whites in the microwave. You may end up cooking the edges and little bits of cooked egg whites in a cake are definitely not good eats.

For your liquid, you could warm it on the stovetop without letting it steam or boil or heat it for 15 seconds at a time in the microwave. You can take the chill off of your butter with short bursts in the microwave, but be very careful not to melt it at all and remember that butter often heats more on the inside of the stick, so you could end up with a puddle in the middle very quickly. I very rarely use the microwave for butter. I do sometimes warm my butter slightly by setting it on a plate on the top of my oven while it is preheating. Just make sure it's not one the hottest spot and remember to check it and turn it often so it doesn't start to melt on one side.

And now ... drumroll please...

Here is the recipe! Enjoy!

Lemon-Rosemary Cake with Lemon-Rosemary Buttercream

3 cups (10-1/2 ounces) sifted bleached cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups (10-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
6 large egg whites (6 ounces)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon very finely chopped rosemary
1/2 cup (4 liquid ounces) buttermilk
1/4 cup (2-1/8 ounces) plain yogurt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9x13 cake pan (or you could use two 8-inch round pans instead) by greasing the bottom and sides and lining the bottom with greased parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg whites, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon zest, rosemary and a couple of tablespoons of the buttermilk. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Mix on low for at least 30 seconds. Add the remaining buttermilk, the yogurt and the butter. Mix on low until all of the dry ingredients are moistened, then mix on medium-high for 1-1/2 minutes. (I use level 4 on my Kitchenaid. If you are using a hand mixer, mix on high.)

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in three parts, adding each part on low speed and then mixing on high speed for 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides and pour into the prepared pan(s). Bake until the top springs back when touched with a finger and a toothpick inserted in the center comes back with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 25-30 minutes.

Lemon-Rosemary Buttercream

1/4 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon very finely chopped rosemary
1-1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until lightened in color and texture, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix on low until just combined, then mix on medium for an additional 8 minutes. Use immediately.


  1. Like, wow, you blew me away with the science. I'll have to reread it when my brain is more awake. I too would have enjoyed science & home-ec (jr high) more if we did experiments with cake! This sounds yummy. I'll have to print this off and try it sometime, maybe at my folks :) I'm kinda surprised it only has 1/4 t of Rosemary, any difference in measurement if using fresh versus dried? OK, I need to remember this is a cake not a roast. :)

  2. Thanks! I only used 1/4 t. because I wanted the flavor to be really subtle. You could certainly put in more. I'm not sure if fresh vs. dried would make a difference. Usually herbs that are dried have a more concentrated flavor (less water) so you add less dried than fresh. I haven't tested that with this cake, though.